The Penguins opened the 2011-12 home campaign on the right foot with a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at CONSOL Energy Center Tuesday night. Richard Park
scored a shorthanded goal while Matt Cooke
, Pascal Dupuis
and James Neal
also got on the board for Pittsburgh as the club improved to 3-0-1 on the season.
The Penguins are now 23-14-7 all-time in home openers and 1-1 at CONSOL Energy Center.
PK IS OK
The Penguins finished the 2010-11 season with the NHL’s No. 1 ranked penalty killing unit. And this season they’ve picked up right where they left off.
Pittsburgh has killed 16-of-16 penalties for a perfect 100 percent clip. And while the players typically like to downplay such stats, it’s hard not to note the difference a strong PK effort has on wins and losses.
The Penguins were once again on the positive end of the special teams battle, killing off all five Panthers power plays, and even chipped in a shorthanded goal from Park.
“We’re obviously on the same page. Diving out there, guys are blocking shots,” Cooke said. “(Marc-Andre Fleury
) and (Brent Johnson
) are both standing on their heads and that makes it fun. We’re all working together as a unit trying to kill penalties.”
THIRD LINE CLUTCHJoe Vitale
earned a spot on the Penguins’ opening day 23-man roster with an excellent training camp. And through the first four games of the year he’s really starting to find some chemistry with linemates Matt Cooke
and Pascal Dupuis
The trio possess a rare blend of spend, tenacity and toughness that is difficult for other teams to match up against. The three forwards put together their best game together against the Panthers, combining for a plus-3 rating and five points: Dupuis (1G-1A); Vitale (2A), Cooke (1G).
“Pascal, Cooke and myself as individuals know what our strengths are,” Vitale said. “We use those strengths to our advantage as a line. We have pretty good chemistry.”
Cooke, Vitale and Dupuis were also key contributors to the penalty killing unit, which snuffed out all five Florida power plays.
“I think (Vitale) compliments what Matt and I try to bring to this hockey club,” Dupuis said. “Finishing your checks, playing hard and being aware defensively as well. When you don’t spend time in your zone you spend it in the offensive zone. I think that’s what makes us successful.”
Defenseman Kris Letang
continued his stretch of scoring, this time against Florida. Letang registered an assist and plus-3 rating in 25:48 minutes of ice time, and his the NHL's current scoring leader with six points (1G-5A).
“I’m just trying to use my speed, it’s my No. 1 asset,” Letang said. “I try to join the play as much as I can and always being involved.”
Letang’s assist stretched his season-opening scoring streak to four games, with a point in each of the first four contests, and continues to thrive in his extra ice time.
“I worked out a lot this summer for that (extra ice time),” Letang said. “It’s something I like to do. I like to play a lot, play in all situations and be there for my team.”
FLEURY GOES FOR IT
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
has made it no secret that he would love to add his name to the list of NHL netminders who have scored a goal. Any time his team has a two-goal lead and the opponent pulls their goalie, he eyes up a shot.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in the third period against Florida, such a scenario played out and Fleury took his chance.
However, his shot was blocked down by Florida and a mad scramble ensued in front of the net as Fleury hustled back into position. Thanks to some great defensive efforts by the Penguins, the Panthers were unable to take advantage of the situation.
“The guys did great, everyone was sliding everywhere to block it,” Fleury said. “One day I’m going to get one, I hope.”
Fleury can laugh about it now and live to try another day. But when he does finally get one, it will be a relief to head coach Dan Bylsma.
“If scoring one will get him to stop trying then yes (I hope he scores),” Bylsma said with a smile. “If somehow we can get him credit for one, that would be great. Then we can get him to stop trying to take that risk with his shot.”
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin
missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury. Bylsma listed him as day-to-day.